Thursday, 31 January 2013

My fake Daddy

My fake Daddy
31 January 2013

Children have a marvellous way of looking at the world.  When they’re little, they’re just so pure.  Uncorrupted if you like.  Life is innocent and fun.  People too.

They have an ability to take a situation, something they’ve seen or heard or perhaps experienced, and break it down into bit sized chunks.  Chunks they’re able to digest and understand.  To take it down to something they can relate to and that makes logical sense to them.  They don’t like anomalies.  Things that don’t fit the norm and pattern.  They like order and a feeling of all-is-right with their world.  I think the unexplained makes them feel uneasy and uncomfortable.  Sure, when they’re a certain age, they adapt and change.  But only when they’re ready to accept a new frame of reference or the broadening of their horizons.  Then they’re more susceptible and easy to guide and accept different things.

As adults we have conditioned them this way, by cushioning them from some of life’s hard blows.  Beloved pets quite often don’t die.  They go to “live on a farm in the countryside” instead.  All neat, tidy and perfectly reasonable.  Unless they’ve got an enquiring mind and then honesty is the best policy.  In fact, it usually is.

Amber never knew my Dad, her real grandfather.  Instead, Daya, my awesome stepdad is a fantastic grandfather to her.  Rob and my mom hooked up when Amber was born.  We’d known him since forever and thus he completely and utterly fits into our lives and in the same vein we fit into his.  He was at varsity with my uncles – all of them friends from many, many years ago when they were all still teenagers.  And he was my Dad’s very best friend.  He was often around and we all knew him well.

Amber grew up knowing the story of Oupa Frank and that he had died.  All of my kids have.  I’ve made a point of ensuring that my kids know him.  I often tell them about him and he comes up in conversation fairly regularly.  Even as babies, they could identify photos of him.

And then one day, when Amber was a bit older, she asked me again about Daya and Oupa Frank.

I went into the whole long explanation again, about Oupa Frank getting sick and sadly dying.  How Mom and Daya love each other very much and they got married.  How Mom became Katarina’s stepmom and how Daya became my stepdad.  How Katarina still has a real mom too and how Daya was not my daddy when I was a little girl, etc., etc., etc.

And after delicately and patiently explaining all of this to Amber in great detail, she looked me straight in the eye and said “So Daya is your fake Daddy?”.

And all I could say to that was “yip, he sure is”.  Truth be told, I was tapped out and couldn’t face going into the whole long explanation again, with great depth this time.  The fact of the matter though, is that she got the essence of the story all right, just not the correct terminology.  Which is actually pretty okay, all things considered.

I love Daya, I really do.  I love him for loving my Mom and making her happy.  I love him for loving our whole big, large and very extended family.  I love him for always opening his home to all of us, continually.  We have an open invitation, anytime we so wish.  I love the time he takes with my kids and the continual interest he shows in them.

He came into our lives, rather “lightly” if you wish.  Just him and his person, my bonus sister Katarina.  And in return he got Maggie and her people.  And that’s a whole lot.  He got Lombards, Loubsers, Bertolani’s and Aulds. 

Most people have the fortune/misfortune (it depends on your perspective and the luck of the draw) of acquiring only one Mother-In-Law when they get married.  But not our Daya.  He is the only person I know who can boast with the following:  He has a Mother-In-Law, my Ouma Helene.  He has an ex Mother-In-Law, his ex-wife’s Mom.  And the cherry on the cake?  He has a step Mother-In-Law, my Ouma Cathy – my Dad’s mom.

My fake Daddy sure got himself a whole bunch of fake Momma’s. 

Which, I suppose in a bizarre way, makes him my “Pa from another Ma”. 

Fake Daddy and Real Daddy were best friends - here they're hamming it up for the camera

Fake Daddy and Real Daddy some more

The day Fake Daddy became Fake Daddy.  Pic taken at Mom and Fake Daddy's wedding - they sommer did Department of Home Affairs.
Aaahhh!  Sweet!  Fake Daddy and Mom having a cuddle.
Fake Daddy makes an awesome grandfather.  Here he's about to embark on a walk with the Cloete kids - a few years ago when they were still way smaller and younger.
Fake Daddy and his person (our special Katarina) with Maggie and some of her people
For the relatively small investment of one child, Daya got a huge return when he married a Lombard.  Now he has more relatives than he could ever imagine.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Resident evil

Resident evil
30 January 2013

There’s a monster under my bed and the boogie man lives in my closet.  His beady eyes watch me at night.  He tries to torment me and makes a grab for my legs whenever I walk past.

Actually, I’ve befriended him and his name is Roger. 

On a serious note though, I suppose we all have big fears.  Some are more tangible and easy to avoid.  Thanks to the movie Jaws, I’m absolutely petrified of sharks, and therefore almost never swim in the sea.  So avoiding sharks at least, is pretty easy to do.  They don’t come on land and so the sharks and I have a pretty good understanding.  I don’t mess on their playground, the sea, and they don’t mess on mine – land.  Hardly a difficult compromise to reach.  When we go to the aquarium, which isn’t all that often, I don’t even have a peep at the shark tank – they’re just too creepy.  Though at the same time, it makes me rather sad that they’re stuck in a glorified fish bowl, for us to gawk at them.  They really should be free.

But my fear of sharks, is but nothing, compared to the mind numbing terror I feel at the mere mention of snakes.  Never liked them.  Never will.  I can’t even look at pictures of them – ridiculous I know.  I’m an adult after all.  And when they’re on TV, I just look away.  My family all know about my fear, and hence they warn me whenever there’s a snake image on TV – watching them slither about is just too much for me.  And inevitably, once I’ve accidently seen one of those awful limbless reptiles on TV, I’ll have a horrid dream about them that very same night.  The only bad dream I can ever remember from my childhood was of being at Cloetenberg and seeing a snake in the garden.  I ran inside and slammed the back door to the garden shut.  But that blasted slithering snake managed to squeeze itself through the keyhole right in front of me.  Mercifully I always woke up at this point.  And given my snake phobia, watching Survivor (one of my favourite programmes) on TV is a real challenge.  Everyone is on high alert to warn me less I suffer from any inadvertent serpent sightings.

However, sharks and snakes aside there are some things I fear even more.  The loss of one of my children is something I don’t even want to think about.  I worry when they are away from me.  Not that I’m all that good at keeping them safe, I suppose.  I know that I have to let them go.  Sometimes they literally have to bump their own heads – Cole will bump his often.  He leaps before he looks.  I worry when they’re on long car journeys.  That they’ll be knocked off the rocks at Kleinbaai and be swept into the sea.  When they’re crossing the road and I’m not with them.  Intellectually, I know that I’m being ridiculous.  Pathetic even.  I can’t cosset them and wrap them up in cotton wool.  And I don’t do it.  I promise I don’t.  But it doesn’t stop the worrying.  I suspect it’s part of being a parent.  That it’s like an invisible cloak you wear all the time.  Sometimes it just presses down on you more heavily.

Teenagers are not known for their caution, and this is all coming up the ladder for me.  Luke is turning fifteen in just over two weeks.  Already he is saying that it would be awesome to have a motorbike to scoot around in and that he would be eligible for one, once he’s turned sixteen.  Over.  My.  Dead.  Body.  Is he friggin nuts???  Him!  On a motorbike!  Perish the thought.  For one, we couldn’t afford it and secondly, I would be a nervous wreck each time he took to the road.  About three years ago a pupil at his school died when she got knocked off her scooter, waiting at the robot two blocks from our home.  She didn’t do anything wrong.  She was stationary at the time and got side swiped by a prison escort truck.

A few years from now, he’ll be wanting to drive.  Going to parties, driving with others in a car.  What if they’re drunk?  Everyone takes chances.  For now, I’m sowing the seeds, “you can phone me any time of the night or day and I will fetch you”.  I won’t be angry.  You can wake me up and I’ll come and get you.  I’ll be the fetching parent, I really don’t mind.  And if you’re the designated driver and you’ve had too much?  Rather just phone and I’ll fetch everyone else too.

Fast forward a few more years, and Amber will be the one out and about.  Jolling always seems to happen in Stellenbosch, meaning a long-ish drive on the treacherous R44 at night.  Eeekkk!  And then in the blink of an eye, Cole will be wanting to join the fray too.  For that one I’ll be needing nerves of steel.  And reinforced steel at that.

I suspect that the parental anguish gets easier.  I know my Mom still worries about all three of her sprogs and their sproglets too.  But I suppose there really does come a time, when the anxiety lessens, if not goes away completely.  That is too much to ask for and is part of the package when you acquire a kid.  It’s not just cuddles, kisses, schooling, feeding them, educating them, homework, sport, etc.  Life is not that neat.  You can’t have it all.  Maybe the worry is the bit that makes us good parents, appreciate our kids, cherish them and value the time we have with them.

I still think it sucks though.  The monster under the bed and the boogie man have nothing over my biggest fear.  In fact, move over sharks and snakes, Freddie Kruger and Chucky too.

Personally, I’d rather be stuck with Roger, his beady eyes and groping hands, any day of the week.  Bring it on big boy…

This really made me laugh - can't you just picture John Travolta doing the whole pointy finger thing?

You DON'T want to mess with Chuck...

Phonetically speaking

Phonetically speaking
29 January 2013

I am telling you now, that you have not lived until you’ve had a small child going on the journey towards literacy.  Few things are sweeter than the phonetic way they have of writing.  For some, those phonetic skills last for years.  For others, the whole spelling thing comes easier.

My darling little Amber-Berry was THE BEST at writing phonetically.  And added to that, she just loved writing in general and hence there are lots and lots and lots of little letters and stories, penned by her.  But by far, my very favourite examples of Amber’s exemplary writing skills came to the fore when she was in Grade 2.

My kids have all been blessed in having the same Grade 2 teacher.  The most amazing and creative lady, called Carol Viljoen.  And every year, she gives her Grade 2 class a project.  For the duration of the June/July holiday period, they have to keep a journal.  She builds a lot of hype and excitement around it.  And it starts off with her instruction to the kids, to make their own journal.  To take a notepad, cover it, own it and take pride in it.  A deadline is set, about a week before the start of the holidays, when everyone has to bring their brand new journal to class.  A journal that is just begging to be filled with awesome tales and grand adventures of wonderful fun, had in the holidays.

Naturally, some kids enjoy projects of this kind more than others.  Boys often are way less keen.  But she gets them at just the right age, when they’re still ripe and eager to please their teachers, so even the boys partake.  They have to after all.  And with great gusto, most kids simply get stuck in and love it.  Luke’s journal was covered in army camouflage print material, with military type badges and stuff glued to the front.  He just loved it!  His first entry was long and very detailed – predictably.  But as is often the case, his attention dwindled a bit.  And while he still did fairly regular entries at my prompting, no story ever matched his very first.  We stuck lots of photo’s in, movie ticket stubs, bits of the wool from his French knitting project, etc.  He loved it and I will cherish his journal forever.  It was just so sweet.

Cole’s journal was a challenge.  Holy smokes!!!  Though he loved it, his handwriting is very hard to read.  First he writes big, then he writes small, then he presses so hard, he nearly gouges the paper and quite often does and then his writing is so faint and light, it can barely be seen.  He also doodles and scribbles all of the time.  So his journal is interspersed with many little drawings of magical creatures.  In fact, his journal is probably an accurate reflection of his very, very busy mind.  To look at his journal is to see how he gets side tracked and loses focus.  He also stuck in many, many photo’s, some stamps as we had been enjoying stamp collecting at the time, as well as a fishing hook.  I know – a fishing hook!  And some nylon fishing line too.  We had been at Kleinbaai at the time, and he was just absolutely loving the daily fishing on the rocks.  Also odd little things, like a piece of the box from his McDonalds Happy Meal, etc.  Very, very, very busy journal, with lots of extra add-ons.  Very much like Cole himself.

But by far, the queen of the journal is Amber.  My delightfully spelling challenged child.  It is just so sweet, and it has provided us with much entertainment.  An added bonus to Amber’s journal is her refreshing and blunt honesty.  Even now, when I look back at it, it makes me laugh.  She maintained interest and kept up with regular entries, long after the project was officially done.  Her journal is jam packed with writing, photo’s, drawings, stickers, scribbles, doodles, pieces of ribbon and material, ticket stubs and who knows what else.  All her own work.  No prompting was ever required.  Everything was done on her own.  My sole contribution, was in taking her to the fabric shop, to let her choose the material to cover her journal – she did not want paper.  I then covered her journal for her and lastly I had pictures printed for her that she wanted to include.  All cutting, pasting and writing -  all her own.

And if you don’t have kids, your kids are still small or they’ve left home already, you might find it hard to understand her writing.  But luckily I’m fluent in Amber and understand her scribbles and therefore I will translate and transcribe where necessary.  Enjoy!

Purple fluffy material covered journal, complete with pen attached.  And a picture of the journal queen on the front, sitting in a tree in our garden, writing in her journal.  So sweet!
First two pages, jam packed with some of her favourite pics - page one bottom right - Amber and Mrs Viljoen
"On Saturday morning my familly an I went to a marct. We boyrt a South Africain flag" - pretty self explanatory I think.
"On Sunday my familly and I went to my granny and grampor my grannys riyil name is granny lin and my grampors riyil name is oper stephen. My brother cole was so funny I almost blue up" - clearly Cole was being extremely funny
"In the wiyild there are all cinds of animils. Like tirtels and monkeys" - perhaps a career at National Geographic or the Discovery Channel is a possibility
We went to look at the snow and Amber's little drawing shows the snowmen we built
Amber's journal happened to co-incide with the 2010 World Cup Soccer Tournament held right on our doorstep.  A friend and I took our kids on a trip to Cape Town by train and then we did the Fan Walk.  Even though we didn't have tickets to see the game, we took in the whole experience and made a day of it. What a fabulous atmosphere!  We sat in one of the fan parks and watched Portugal play North Korea (I think) on the big screen TV.
"On the holliaday me and my family went to the fan-wallk my friends ungkil gave me his sta-de-yim ticit we all went by train it was so fun we watched porchgel play porchgel won 7-0 I like Roneldow"
Fun at Kleinbaai, but if Amber is to be believed we actually went to "clamebiye"
One day in the holidays, in an attempt to keep the kids busy and occupied, I set up a Survivor game for them in our garden.  They had to come up with a name for themselves, paint a tribal flag, put war paint on their faces, camp under our trampoline for the night, traverse many obstacles and even do an eating challenge - the saltiest liquorice drop you can ever imagine.  And the pic in the bottom right shows them trying to eat donuts which I hung up in a tree with string - no hands allowed.  They absolutely loved it.  Such fun!
"Me and my brothers player saviver we painted our faces and billed a tent under our champlin"
Fan Walk fun
On one other occasion, Grant and I and a few of our friends did the Fan Walk too.  Adults only this time.  And who else should be in the same carriage as us on the train?  Mr and Mrs Viljoen - I simply had to take a pic for Amber.  And the pic on the right is of Amber and her beloved little dog, Riley.
Amber's dancing school, was due to put a two week dancing show on the stage shortly after the holidays.  And thus Amber had rehearsals even during the holidays.  The boys went to my Mom for a few days, and Amber had the run of the house to herself.  She loved it!
"On the weekend my brothers went to my granny.  I coodnot go becaus I had to do consists on the weekend.  When my brothers got in the car and went off to my granny I selabrated and bort a chocklat and some billtong and a movie to watch.  Its nice haveing a brack from my brothers"
And then it was Luke's turn for a concert.  The Beaumont school concert - The Lion King.  Luke was one of about 150 Wildebees.
"Luke did a consit The Lion King I Loved it its about time Luke got of his lacey bum and do some thing"
A family braai - we tried a delicacy - little tortoise shaped parcels containing chicken, wrapped in bacon and vienna sausages used for arms and legs - the kids loved it!
We are delighted with the arrival of the latest baby to the family.  A new little cousin called Frankie.
"We finely got to see our baby cozen Frankie she is so tiny.  Mommy says that when she picks up she amost throse her over her sholder"
Cole dressing up - too funny.  In the top pic he is sporting Amber's Build-A-Bear's Hawaiian Hula outfit.  Just had to include this one.
Amber did a beautiful mosaic stone and dressing up is always a firm favourite.
"I was doing moazace.  I was dresing funny like good looking indeain"

Monday, 28 January 2013

My most musical child

My most musical child
28 January 2013

It stands to reason, that given my very musical background, the fact that I am musical and the love of music in our home and continual exposure to it, at least one of my kids would be musical too.

And thus, I would like to present to you, my most musical child…..Luke!  Truly he is.  In fact, I would like to venture so far as to say that he is indeed gifted in the musical field.

So how do I know this?  And pray tell what instrument does he play?  Well none.  Not a single one.  He did play the electric guitar and went to lessons for a few years, but clearly the boy was lacking in dedication.  A half an hour practice before his weekly lesson, just didn’t satisfy me, and so after numerous warnings and threats, we stopped the lessons.  And just to prove how very evil I am, I made him hand the letter in to the music school – to put it in his teacher’s hand in fact.  A letter that stated that we had been very happy with their tuition, the standard of their teachers and the material that they taught.  But that Luke had shown no commitment in practicing and wasn’t pulling his weight.  He was mortified, but it was the truth.  The cessation of lessons, was in no way a reflection on them and I wanted them to understand that.  Furthermore, I wanted Luke to take accountability for the part he had played or more aptly not played.  Personally, I was hugely disappointed when Luke stopped, but learning an instrument requires practice.  And lots of it too.  I know this to be true with absolute clarity, having spent many, many hours playing the piano.  I nurtured fond hopes that he would prove us wrong, and pick up the guitar on his own, begging us to let him have lessons again.  But in the nearly two years since the lessons have stopped, his guitar has been gathering dust.  He hasn’t picked it up.  Not even once.  It is merely an ornament in his room.  No better than a bauble, adding decoration and ambience.

So, if he doesn’t play an instrument, does he sing, you might ask?  No, never.  Though I do suspect he mumbles along during assembly at school when it comes to the obligatory singing of the National anthem and the school song too.  Or perhaps he just lip syncs.  Who can tell.  Personally, my money's on the lip syncing.

So how can I then say that he is musical?  Nay gifted in fact?  Well, it’s very simple.  He has a phenomenal grasp of musical terms and indeed lives through them and by them.  He really does.  He is like a living, walking, breathing glossary of musical terminology.  Seriously, I kid you not.  Don’t want to believe me?  Well, please allow me to illustrate my point.

When I ask him a question, his answer is always given to me in “staccato” (brief, short, detached) – i.e. “yes”, “no”, “fine”.

When he argues with his brother and sister, which is sadly rather frequently, he speaks very “fortissimo” (very loud) – i.e. “Amber stop it!!!”

When I ask him to do something for me, his movements are “larghissimo” (very, very, very slow) – i.e. requests to wash the dishes are met with very, very slow speed.

When he plays on his beloved PlayStation or one of his best PC games, his actions and whole demeanour is “espressivo” (expressive) and “festivamente” (cheerfully, celebratory).

When asked a question, he tends to speak “bocca chiusa” (with closed mouth) – mumbling if you like.

When he does well in a test or his team wins a hockey match, he “fieramente” (proudly) walks around.  So very, very happy with life.

Naturally, I would love to snoop (it’s a mother’s prerogative and sometimes the only way I find out what’s really happening in his life), but when it comes to the exact location of his cell phone, he can be very “misterioso” (mysterious) in keeping its location a secret.

He has an uncanny knack towards and inclination to “spinto” (push) – as in my buttons.

Occasionally he acts in typical teenager-ish fashion as if life is “acciaccatura” (crushing) – it is oh so very hard and life is just sooo unfair.

When he really, really wants something done and it suits him, he can be very “prestissimo” (extremely quickly, as fast as possible).  He often applies “prestissimo” when it comes to brushing his teeth, before he’s allowed to have a last go on the computer before bed time.

He went through a period when his voice was breaking and every sound that came out of his mouth sounded “tremolo” (shaking) and his voice would also go “altissimo” (very high).  It has however now stabilised as a “bass” (very deep).

At times when he doesn’t get his own way, and he feels that life is treating him unfairly, he gets very “irato” (angry).

Normally followed by the “irato”, there is a period of “sospirando” (sighing) – he does lots of that.  It expresses frustration, irritation and being hard-done by.

When he gives in to an excessive amount of “sospirando” and I enquire about his wellbeing and urge him to tell me what is bothering him, his answer is normally “niente” (nothing).  This is never really the case.  He always feels that there is a valid reason for his “sospirando”.

And with enough prompting for me “adagissimo” (very, very slowly), he might start telling me his woeful tale.

Sometimes he is “affannato” or “affannoso” (anguished) about something.

He might eventually reveal “dolente” (sorrowfully, plaintively) how unfair life is treating him.

He has a flair for “gemendo” (groaningly) telling me what is bothering him.

Quite often he’s “ostinato” (obstinate, persistent) in expressing his story. 

Ever “insistendo” (insistent, deliberate) that he’s been wronged.

If I handle the situation incorrectly, then he can get quite “bellicose” (warlike).

And if someone like Amber, who is often the cause of his ire should happen to walk past and give her opinion, it is quite easy for him to go into verbal “attacca” (attack or attach).

When this happens, I try not to appear “ängstlich” (anxiously) – it just aggravates matters.

I immediately step in and tell the kids to “cesura” (break, stop) their arguing at once!

Tempers can flair and conversation can get very “crescendo” ( growing, progressively louder).  Something I just won’t tolerate.

I like to “enfatico” (emphatically) urge my kids to get along.

I do this with great “con brio” (with spirit, with vigour) and conviction too.

And if I try and sell them the idea of getting along and living “ruhig” (peaceful) and harmoniously together as one big happy family with great “con somma passion” (with great passion), I might just pull it off.

But when it comes to Luke, the trick is that I must be patient in listening to him and letting him feel that he has indeed got a voice.  Because if I do that, then “peu à peu” (little by little) we’ll get to the bottom of it all.

It is of vital importance that I create an atmosphere that is “abbandonatamente” and “con abbandono” (free, relaxed).  It encourages conversation.

If I do this, then I find that “a due” (intended as a duet), and we have two way conversation and talk together, we can work things out.

I will “vittorioso” (victoriously) rejoice in my happy family.

Some “tenerezza” (tenderness) also helps.

Alternatively, some “scherzando”, “scherzoso” (playfully) distraction is fun too.

But most importantly of all, a little bit of motherly “amoroso” (loving) goes a long way.

So, I’m sure you’ll agree, that Luke is marvellously talented in the musical field.  A genius if you please.



Sunday, 27 January 2013

Will you still respect me in the morning?

Will you still respect me in the morning?
27 January 2013

There are some things that I am less proud of than others.  Some that leave me feeling mortified and I’m actually rather embarrassed to admit to them.  Scrap that – VERY embarrassed to admit to them, but here goes…..

When my Dad had cancer and it became inevitable that he would die, I found myself unable to cope.  I was a new mother to a little baby and I was trying to get a new business off the ground too.  I needed some escapism.  A break from a very harsh reality.  One I was unable to deal with.

Oh, the baby bit was fine – it was fun and oh so rewarding and Luke was just so blessedly cute!  The business bit was overwhelming and all new to me too, but I coped with it.  I loved what I was doing.  It was actually the dying father bit that really wound me up.

Reading was the obvious solution.  I had always been mad about reading and getting lost in a story.  But whereas I had previously enjoyed the odd neutral type of book, requiring not much thinking, possibly a spot of romance, a bit of adventure and intrigue, I found that this was not working.  It still required a level of concentration that I was not able to deliver at that given time.  In the past I had also enjoyed select biographies and autobiographies about interesting people, but these were even less appealing and successful in distracting me and holding my attention.  I could not take anything in.  As I was reading, the words seemed to bump and bounce right out of my brain.  If they even made it that far in the first place.  I would lose track of where I was and spend absolute ages reading the same page again and again.  Over and over with no comprehension of what I’d just read.

And then all of a sudden, I had a light bulb moment.  Oprah would have called it an “Aha!” moment.  The solution became very obvious to me.  I had to read fluffy brainless books, requiring no brain activity at all.  In fact, absence of a brain was even better.  Books that were predictable and simply always had happy endings.

Only one type of book met all of these requirements.  In fact every single last one.  And here is my cringe moment, my most embarrassing secret of all – I read Mills & Boons books by the truckload.  And when I say truckload, I’m not talking little eensy weensy trucks either.  We’re talking beeeg trucks.  Eighteen wheelers at least.  I could not keep up, nor get enough.  One after the other – again and again.  I even became a bit of a Mills & Swoon connoisseur.  Reading a select few authors’ offerings only.  They churn them out fairly quickly.  Releasing a few books a year.  I think they sort of follow a recipe to cook one up.  And hence it doesn’t take all that long.

The 2nd hand book shop became my favourite hangout.  The books were cheap, affordable and accessible.  And there were fellow equally mortified romantic novel fans there too.  None of us ever made eye contact.  So embarrassed were we to be seen there.  And as soon as I made my purchases, I would hide them deep in my enormous big bag.  I always went well prepared.  In fact, I stopped just short of hiding behind a hoodie and a big pair of shades whenever I left the shop.

The recipe for a romantic novel seems pretty straightforward to me.  Beautiful, charming, shy, yet refreshingly outspoken girl, from under privileged and poor background, meets handsome, ridiculously wealthy and rather austere man.  Preferably he is a count or some such and for some of other reason, he always has a square jaw.  Personally I don’t get the whole square jaw thing, but it seems to be a pre-requisite.  He is always a wealthy landowner and is usually a genius in the financial field, normally with a few businesses up his sleeve.  There is also usually a horrid ex-girlfriend or “family friend” in the picture – eager to make trouble.  Naturally he owns jets, yacht and villa’s galore.  Occasionally, even the odd small island. 

As for the young, beautiful girl on the other hand, she normally has a horrible abusive stepdad.  Or possibly even a stepmom.  Poverty is key to her make-up.  She is humble, sweet and kind to animals.  She is simply always unaware of her gorgeous good looks and usually a wardrobe make-over does the trick to bring her toned and voluptuous body to the fore. (Shame – she couldn’t really afford to dress properly before).

The reason for boy-meets-girl is usually pretty predictable too.  The reasons their paths should cross.  Being joint guardians of orphaned nieces and nephews a recurring theme.  Then there’s the working class girl who’s a secretary or works in a flower shop (I do find the flower shop thing pretty odd too – I mean how many flower shop assistants could there possibly be?).  Maybe she’s a lowly housekeeper.  Sometimes amnesia brought about by an awful accident, caused indirectly by our hero is the cause.  Often she’s in a terrible financial pickle, brought about by a reckless and selfish family member, leaving her to repay the debt.  An ill mother needing life-saving and expensive surgery also works quite well.

So see, it is quite addictive and soul cleansing to read this drivel.  Simply no sadness involved.  No one ever dies.  And if they do, it’s normally those awful stepfathers, or saintly ancient old grannies, way past their prime.  Their death is glossed over and causes no actual pain.  There is no hardship.  No cruelty.  No suffering either.

These books are always 185 pages long.  By page 10, we’ve been introduced by all.  By page 30 they’ve had at least one chance encounter and the sparks are starting to fly.  By page 70 things are starting to heat up.  The interfering ex-girlfriend is really stirring things up.  Alternatively, the sick mother has had her operation and occasionally, she even lives.  By page 100 they’ve had their first kiss.  But obviously they’re both still waging an internal battle, fighting their mutual attraction.  By page 130 they’re drawing ever closer and have had the odd romantic and tender moment.  There is clearly signs of hope.  By page 150, the evil ex-girlfriend has been exposed and they’ve had at least on trip in his yacht or jet.  By page 180, they both declare their undying love for each other.  He proposes and confesses his deep and abiding love for her.  Blah-blah-blah.  Segue yachting off to island for two where they will be staying in his villa.  By page 185, we’re hitting the epilogue with the predictable happy ending.  They’ve had their obligatory pigeon pair kids.  Naturally a boy first, that looks just like his handsome dad (strong signs of a square jaw already visible).  Followed by a cute little girl, looking just like her mom.

So see!  What’s not to love?  I would however like to gladly inform you that I have moved on.  No more Mills & Swoon or Harlequin Romance for me.  I read big girl books now.  Still happy endings though – I won’t give up on that.  Occasionally I hit a dud, but for the most part my book choices are successful.

But every so often, I have a little relapse and dip into some Mills & Boon some more.  Hey, don’t judge me.  I dare you to give it a bash yourself.  You know you want to. 

I promise I’ll still respect you.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Ye Olde Bell

Ye Olde Bell
25 January 2013

In my misspent youth I had loads of fun working in a pub.  It became a home away from home.  And alcohol aside, it felt like an extension of my parents lounge.  Or actually, maybe because of the alcohol it did.  Not that they were the biggest drinkers, they were just social drinkers.  Most people are.

Even before my working days, we were patrons of the pub.  Regulars if you please.  Ye Olde Bell was THE PLACE to be.  Where simply everyone came to hang out.  The owners were friends and fabulous people.  Making all feel welcome, at home and like they were friends too. 

I learnt more about psychology during my stint at Ye Olde Bell, than during the three years I spent studying it at Varsity.  I learnt to listen to people.  To hear what they were really saying.  That everyone had their struggles and their problems.  But that they had their joys and accomplishments too.  That you couldn't judge a book by its cover.  And that there were many, many lonely people out there.

Those that frequented the pub often, and were regulars became each other's families.  Many lasting bonds were formed.  Many friendships made.  Bonds and friendships that have stood the test of time.

People came there not only for the alcohol.  They came there for the company too.  For the people they found there that cared about how their day went.

What would they have done without the pub?  Gone home lonely and sad?  Drinking in solitude there too?  Surely the option of company is better.

There were some genuinely nice people that came there.  Family people, who didn't hang out there all the time.  People that knew when to call it a day.  Alcoholics don't hang out in pubs.  They hang out in the bottom of glasses of alcohol.  Pubs are not filled with drunk people.  Oh they are there sometimes, but they form the minority.  Pubs are filled with lonely people.

And during my sabbatical at the Bell, I met some great folk.  Many I keep in contact with to this day.  I started off waitressing at first.  Then got promoted to bar lady at night.  And finally, I got the bump up to day time manager.  I was however also the only member of staff during the day.  Except for the cleaning lady.  So perhaps not such a manager after all.  More a day time bar lady.  Though the responsibility of ordering liquor and such was mine.

There is a very "special" and unique smell that welcomes you when you are the first person to open up a pub in the morning.  It is a smell that only those that have experienced it will know what I'm talking about.  It is not the same smell as your home, the morning after a heavy party the previous night.  Firstly the volume of alcohol and resulting leftover dregs remaining in glasses and bottles is great, giving off their own unique aroma.  And secondly those were the days before smoking legislation was set into place.  There was no designated smoking area.  The whole place was a smoking area.  Do you know how many people put their cigarette butts or stompies in the last little bits of alcohol in their beer bottles?  How the stuffy smell of cooped up alcohol and way too much stale smoke can hit you in your face like a physical presence? 

The jol always ran too late the night before to even contemplate cleaning up.  In any rate it was not the night staff's responsibility.  That pleasure was mine.  I went in at 10h00 every morning.  And Mathebe, the African lady and I spent two hours each morning rectifying matters.  Washing, cleaning, stocking the fridges, etc.

And more often than not, when I opened the doors at 12h00 someone was already eagerly waiting outside.

During that time, especially when I was still working the night shift, I worked on opposing ends of the same spectrum.  Because while I wiled my nights away earning money at Ye Olde Bell, I wiled my days away working at The Lady Phillip's Tea Garden.  This was a very, very posh establishment on a beautiful wine farm.  It was a five star restaurant and extreme care was taken with the small little details.  The 100% cotton serviettes had to be folded just so.  Everything had to be polished and gleaming.  The sets and sets of cutlery next to each plate had to be put in exactly the correct manner.  I suspect that most of the clientele didn't truly know which of the three sets they had to use for which course either.  Standards were exacting.  The chefs were all top class.  The menu's changed constantly to incorporate current trends and allow for variety.  Everything of the very best always.

The irony is that I met nicer, less pretentious, more genuine people at the pub.  They were probably more well off too.  I would go to my "posh" job wearing a pencil slim black skirt, pristine white shirt, not a hair out of place, feeling uncomfortable the entire time.  Rush home after my shift.  Get home at about 17h30, jump into a pair of jeans, shirt and comfy shoes and hoof it off to the pub just down the road.  Ready for the start of my shift at 18h00.  Feeling so at home and relaxed from the second I walked in.  Hardly like it was work at all.  The irony is of course that on my off nights, we ended up going to the Bell too.

I earned way more money at the pub.  And had way more fun doing it.  It is the venue of Albert's first ever solo gig – a milestone in his career.

I sort of had a gap year after getting my degree.  And spent that year working at the pub.  Eventually one of the regulars offered me a more "respectable" nine to five job.  One that didn't involve serving liquor.  And though I was excited at the prospect of a new adventure, I knew it was the start of a new era too.  Real life was about to begin.  The holiday was over.  It was time to get on with it and make my folks proud.  They had not spent three years of expensive tuition and textbook fees (an expense they could barely afford), for me to just work in a pub.  No disrespect meant to the pub.  I also always knew that it could not last forever.  I would eventually have to become an adult and face the real world.

Thank you Wayne and Anita for giving me my wings.  I somehow simultaneously managed to find my feet.  Under your care, my self-confidence grew.  I learnt to make snappy retorts to leery remarks.  To sidestep wandering hands.  You had faith in me and gave me, an inexperienced spring chicken, naïve and sparkly eyed, a chance.  You trusted me. 

I will forever cherish my memories of wonderful times.

I am also forever grateful for all that I learnt during that period of my life.  The people I met.  The experiences I garnered.  The perspective it gave me.  Those very same lessons carry me through to this day.

And what is more, for the rest of my life, I will never forget the petition that every single loyal, regular patron signed after I left the pub.

A petition simply called,

"Bring H back". (Everyone called me 'H' back then)

Few things in my life have touched me more and made me feel more loved and appreciated.  Because even though on the surface I just poured them their drinks, I was their psychiatrist, their psychologist and their therapist too.  But even more than that, I was their friend and their family.  And I loved them for it.

And do to this day.

Ye Olde Bell Softball team - I think about 1994.  This was our Year-End/Christmas/Team Building exercise and what fun we had.  Back row:  Wayne, Andrew and Robin.  Middle row:  Anita, Ali and Claire.  Front row:  Nikki and I
Me, Eric and Claire - way back.  When we were still young, skinny and ridiculously goodlooking.
In this pic we're cheating on The Bell.  We went to Talla's in Gordon's Bay.  Andrew, Moi, Grant and Paul.
We used to have the most awesome themed Member's Evenings - a fancy dress for selected patrons.  On this occasion I went as a hippie and Grant was a mechanic.
The hippie
Predictably my Dad went as a Blues Brother
My Mom and Katrine
The old Ye Olde Bell.  Sadly the pub burnt down a few years ago.  It has been rebuilt and now sports a completely new look.  Ownership has also changed hand a few times.  I wouldn't be surprised to find some of the same people from years ago, still sitting in the pub right now.